Scientists say no to an e-cigarette company - Activate World

Scientists say no to an e-cigarette company

Jeff Vaughan, medical liaison for e-cigarette maker Juul has a challenging job, convincing scientists to help the company prove to the Food and Drug Administration and the public, that “Juuling” offers more public health benefit than risk. If proper evidence is not submitted to the agency by 2022, all sales could be halted.

Mr. Vaughan and his associates stalk e-cigarette researchers at conferences, pursuing speakers with emails and phone calls requesting meetings and slides, and offering substantial sums to academics.  However, because so many researchers have rejected the company’s lucrative offers, Juul has had to rely on scientists with tobacco industry ties — further damaging the company’s credibility and making it even tougher to attract independent investigators.

Lunchtime Conversations:

  • Should the FDA crack down on illegal sales of e-cigarettes to minors and also the kid-friendly marketing and appeal of these products?
  • Juul maintains that vaping flavors are a useful tool to help adult smokers to switch from combustible cigarettes and “were completely surprised by the youth usage of the product.” What steps can the company take to prevent minors from using e-cigarettes? Do you believe Juul’s surprise about youthful adoption?
  • A type of vaping device called a “pod mod” uses vape liquid made from nicotine salts found in loose-leaf tobacco instead of the traditional free-base nicotine found in most e-cigarette liquid. This allows the user to experience a higher—and more addictive—concentration of nicotine. Given the history of cigarettes, why hasn’t the FDA been more aggressive with Juul?


  • Juul’s popular vaping products have contributed to what health officials call an epidemic of e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction among teenagers. 
  • According to a spokeswoman, Juul now has more than a 70 percent share of the e-cigarette market and employs about 2,200 people around the world. 65 to 70 are researchers, including doctors, and others with Ph.D.s, MBAs, and other degrees.
  • The Centre for Substance Use Research has done most of Juul’s outside research and is well known to tobacco control advocates, who have long criticized its studies for playing down the danger of youth addiction to e-cigarettes.


Belinda Borrelli is the director of the Center for Behavioral Science Research at the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine at Boston University, and a longtime smoking cessation scholar. She says Juul has contacted her by email and left voicemails numerous times. Dr. Borelli did not return Juul’s calls, along with many other research and education experts.

Juul has managed to recruit a few high-profile scientists, including Erik Augustson, formerly of the National Cancer Institute. A Juul spokeswoman, Lindsay Andrews, said the company was committed to top-notch scientific research.

Ms. Andrews also says that Juul has agreements to fund work at three American universities, but she would not disclose the institutions’ names. Several people within the company said the institutions were fearful of controversy if their names were revealed.

Juul’s predicament is made worse by the bans that many universities have on accepting funding from the tobacco industry. Juul considers itself an e-cigarette company, but since selling a 35-percent stake to the tobacco giant Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, last year, some universities are not so sure.

Ms. Andrews acknowledged the problem posed by the $12.8 billion investment from Altria.“We certainly understand the skepticism that comes with a category like ours, particularly in light of how historical tobacco companies have used science and misinformation in the past,” she said. 

“Juul is never going to have credibility,” Dr. Bhatnagar said. “I feel bad about that, but what I feel worse about is that they are trying to extract information from our students and fellows, enticing them with little peanuts, so they can start a dialogue. It’s a little nefarious.”

Sources: Childmind,  CNN, The New York TimesYale Medicine

Photo by Itay Kabalo on Unsplash